Nonviolence . . . Human trafficking . . . Women . . . . The elderly . . . Immigrants' rights . . . Housing. . . Children . . . Prisoners' rights . . . Health care . . . World Hunger . . . Globalization, as it affects Latin America . . . Care of the earth . . . Seamless ethic of life

Note: The ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author's and should not be ascribed to the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes or its members.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

We Are One Family Under God – National Migration Week 2015

Can you imagine the scene?
In the middle of the night Joseph shakes Mary into consciousness. “I just had a vivid dream,” he tells her. “I received a warning from a heavenly messenger telling me that we must take our child and flee to Egypt because Herod has evil intentions toward him. Pack nothing but the bare essentials because we must leave here immediately.”
Obediently and without argument, Mary rises and puts a little food and some changes of clothing in a bag. She wraps Jesus in a blanket and holds him close as Joseph helps her mount their donkey. In the chill, dark night Joseph leads them through the back streets of Bethlehem and outside the walls onto the desert trail to the south. They are a refugee family with an uncertain future. They have no human protections, only their trust that God accompanies them on the way.
Such is the plight of thousands of individuals and families throughout the world in this 21st Century. According to the United Nations, more than 43 million people worldwide are now forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution, the highest number since the mid-1990s. Several million people remain displaced because of natural disasters, although updated statistics are not available. More than 15 million of the uprooted are refugees who fled their home countries, while another 27 million are people who remain displaced by conflict within their own homelands -- so-called ‘internally displaced people. Major refugee populations include Palestinians (4.8 million), Afghans (2.9 million), Iraqis (1.8 million), Somalis (700,000), Congolese (456,000), Myanmarese (407,000), Colombians (390,000), Sudanese (370,000).

In addition to refugees who are often forced to flee at a moment’s notice there are millions who migrate in search of employment. Such is the case for many immigrants (whether documented or not) who are in our country today. Through recent Executive Action, President Obama announced the legal steps he can and will take to remedy our country’s broken immigration system thereby helping at least some immigrants come out of the shadows.

We are one family under God, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops declare in this year’s theme for National Migration Week (January 4-10, 2015). Pope Francis outlines the desperation that people face, as did the Holy Family, and how we are called by God to respond with welcome and respect for they are not strangers but rather members of the human family.   
 “In an age of such vast movements of migration, large numbers of people are leaving their homelands, with a suitcase full of fears and desires, to undertake a hopeful and dangerous trip in search of more humane living conditions. Often, however, such migration gives rise to suspicion and hostility, even in ecclesial communities, prior to any knowledge of the migrants’ lives or their stories of persecution and destitution. In such cases, suspicion and prejudice conflict with the biblical commandment of welcoming with respect and solidarity the stranger in need.” Pope Francis
Let us keep refugees and migrants in prayer. Available from the USCCB is this Prayer Card.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

World Day of Peace: 1 January, 2015

World Day of Peace: 1 January, 2015
Many of us begin our New Year resolved to begin anew, to make some small changes in our lives that we believe will improve our physical, spiritual or emotional health and well-being. The resolutions may be challenging or easy, openly stated or secret. In any case, they spring from a well of desire to become new persons, to turn over “a new leaf” in our book of life.

By placing the World Day of Peace at the beginning of the New Year the Roman Catholic Church invites believers to consider practices of peace and nonviolence as resolutions. This year, Pope Francis’s message for the World Day of Peace is titled “No longer slaves, but brothers and sisters.” He addresses the grave injustice of modern slavery that holds millions of people around the world in bondage for sex or for labor.

Slavery, Pope Francis says, violates the dignity of the human person who is created in God’s own image.  It is one of the world’s fastest growing criminal activities that affects every country, and yes, every person on earth. Sometimes also called human trafficking, slavery involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel persons to perform acts against their will. Essentially, it undermines their freedom. According to the Holy Father, root causes of slavery include greed and corruption; poverty; lack of development, education or employment; armed conflict and terrorism.

In the face of this ubiquitous evil we must not remain indifferent, says our Holy Father. We must act personally and collaboratively to confront slavery and take the necessary steps to eradicate it. Pope Francis has made eradication one of his top priorities by convening special conferences at the Vatican, writing, speaking and praying about slavery. In early December, 2014, he and other religious leaders signed a declaration to bring slavery to an end by 2020. In order to achieve that goal, governments, civil society, and faith leaders must collaborate, he said.

In his message, the Holy Father applauded the efforts of women religious who have had a special dedication to assist the victims of human trafficking and to bring an end to modern slavery. The Sisters of St. Agnes and Associates have had a corporate stance against human trafficking since January 21, 2007 – the feast of St. Agnes. Their commitment to educate themselves and others remains as strong as ever. They continue to hold events on key days:
·January 11, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Established by President Obama in 2011. See the National Weekend of Prayer for ideas about how to commemorate it in 2015.
·February 8, the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita who is the patroness of ending slavery
·February 27, End It: Shine a Light on Slavery. The day was chosen to represent the estimated 27 million people held in slavery.

Visit the CSA website for ideas about actions to end modern slavery. You might even make it one of your New Year’s resolutions.

On the World Day of Peace, we turn to Mary, Mother of God and the Queen of Peace, asking her guidance during 2015 as we work together for an end to human trafficking and modern slavery.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Witnesses at Fort Benning, GA
It was a rainy Sunday morning on November 23rd when 2,500 witnesses gathered in solemn vigil before the gates of Fort Benning, GA where the US Army houses a military training school for Latin American military and civilian personnel. Formerly called the School of the Americas it is now named the Western Hemisphere for Security Cooperation. The witnesses convened from countries throughout this hemisphere – Canada, the USA, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, and also from Nigeria. Wisconsin was well represented, with over seventy traveling by bus, plane, car or train. Caryl Hartjes, Mary Rose Meis, and Marilyn Ellickson of the Sisters of St. Agnes were joined by Sally Ann Brickner and Jill Stiemsma from Fond du Lac. Some participants had attended every vigil since they began in 1989 while many others came for the first time. Veterans and civilians, young and old, people of every race and creed lifted their voices, saying: “No mas! No more! We must stop the dirty wars. CompaƱeros, compaƱeras, we cry out! No mas! No More!”

These 2500 who were physically present on Sunday carried the memory and spirit of thousands of men, women and children from Latin America who for generations suffered torture, displacement, and even death at the hands of military and paramilitary forces trained at the SOA/WHINSEC, which is also known as the School of Assassins. Present and not forgotten were CSA Sisters Maureen Courtney, Jenny Flor Altamirano, and Teresa de Jesus Rosales as well as those massacred at El Mazote, the four American Church women, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter. As the names were sung from the stage participants lifted their memorial crosses and sang in reply, “¡Presente!”

Why do so many passionate people continue participating in this vigil? Why does CSA join them? Having served since 1945 in Nicaragua, the Congregation has experienced the effects of USA foreign policy and its protection of corporate interests throughout the Western Hemisphere. In Nicaragua the Sisters have seen war, violence, land grabs, repression and expropriation of natural resources. The have felt the deepening divide between the rich and the poor. They have suffered with families whose loved ones have been disappeared or killed. They know families who have migrated internally or beyond the country’s borders to escape poverty and violence. These evils demand remedy; these victims deserve justice.

During the weekend at Fort Benning, attendees heard speakers from Latin America describe their current realities. They learned new ways of supporting SOA Watch in its efforts to close the military training school: by asking governments to no longer send personnel to the SOA; by urging the US Congress to demand accountability of graduates from the school; or by cutting off Defense Department funds for the school. You can also be a witness by asking your Congress person to co-sponsor HR 2989 The Latin American Training Review Act sponsored by James McGovern of Massachusetts.

Once you know of injustice you must not be silent. In conscience you must be in solidarity with the oppressed and join in their struggle for justice. Marty Haugen says it well in his song Who Will Speak: “Who will speak for the poor and broken? Who will speak for the peoples oppressed? Who will speak so that voice will be heard? Oh, who will speak if you don’t?”